The Bt brinjal is a suite of transgenic brinjals (also known as an eggplant or aubergine) created by inserting a crystal protein gene (Cry1Ac) from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis into the genome of various brinjal cultivars. The insertion of the gene, along with other genetic elements such as promoters, terminators and an antibiotic resistance marker gene into the brinjal plant is accomplished using Agrobacterium-mediated genetic transformation. The Bt brinjal has been developed to give resistance against lepidopteron insects, in particular the Brinjal Fruit and Shoot Borer (Leucinodes orbonalis)(FSB). Mahyco, an Indian seed company based in Jalna, Maharashtra, has developed the Bt brinjal. The genetically modified brinjal event is termed Event EE 1 and Mahyco have also applied for approval of two brinjal hybrids. The Event EE 1 was introgressed by plant breeding into various local varieties by University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad and Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore. Some of the cultivars of brinjal include: Malpur local, Manjari gota, Kudachi local, Udupi local, 112 GO, and Pabkavi local. It was approved for commercialization in India in 2009, but - after an apparent public outcry and rounds of debates in which representatives from Mahyco, the scientific community, and NGO's spoke on the topic - the Indian Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh, facilitated a moratorium on its release until further, unspecified, tests were conducted.
Mahyco licensed and used the cry1Ac gene obtained from Monsanto and two supporting genes (nptII and aad). The cry1Ac gene is under the transcriptional control of an enhanced cauliflower mosaic virus 35S (CaMV35S) promoter, which ensures the gene is expressed in all the brinjals tissue throughout its complete life cycle. NptII and aad are selectable marker genes, nptII is used to identify transgenic plants from non-transgenic, and aad is used to identify the transformed bacteria used during the development of the construct. Aad contains a bacterial promoter and is not expressed in the Bt brinjal. The completed construct was inserted into young cotyledons from the brinjal plants using an Agrobacterium-mediated technique. Agrobacterium naturally inserts DNA into plants from its Ti plasmid, and scientists use this to insert genes of interest into various plants. The transformed plants were regenerated and analyzed for the presence of the gene through Southern blotting. The plants' progeny were also analyzed to identify lines segregating in a Mendelian fashion.
Effective against pests
When fruit and shoot borer larvae feed on Bt brinjal plants, they ingest the Bt protein Cry1Ac along with plant tissue. In the insect gut, which is alkaline with a pH >9.5, the protein is solubilized and activated by gut proteases. The Bt protein binds to specific receptor proteins present in the insect membrane, resulting in pore formation in the membranes. This leads to disruption of digestive processes, paralysis, and subsequent death of the fruit and shoot borer larvae.
Attempted commercialization in India
The first agreement to develop Bt Brinjal was signed in 2005 between India’s leading seed company-Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company, better known as Mahyco (a subsidiary of Monsanto), and two agricultural universities-University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS) in Dharwad and Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) in Coimbatore.
An expert committee (EC-I) was set up in 2006 to examine the biosafety data presented by Mahyco. They concluded that while the current data demonstrated that Bt brinjal was safe and equivalent to its non-Bt counterpart, more studies were required to re-affirm the findings and further trials were needed to ascertain the benefits from Bt brinjal with respect to existing methods for pest management and pesticide reduction. They recommended that large scale trials be allowed to go ahead. In 2009, a second expert committee (EC-II) examined the data from these trials. They concluded that adequate safety tests had been performed, stating that "the benefits of Bt brinjal event EE-I developed by M/s Mahyco far outweigh the perceived and projected risks", and advised the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) to recommend commercialization of the Bt brinjal.
The GEAC cleared Bt brinjal for commercialization on 14 October 2009. Following concerns raised by some scientists, farmers and anti-GM activists, the government of India officially announced on 9 February 2010 that it needed more time before releasing Bt brinjal, with Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh saying that there is no overriding urgency to introduce Bt brinjal in India. On 17 February 2010, Jairam Ramesh reiterated that the Centre had only imposed a moratorium on the release of transgenic brinjal hybrid, and not a permanent ban, saying that “until we arrive at a political, scientific and societal consensus, this moratorium will remain”. Companies with any seeds of Bt brinjal will have to register the details with the government, and the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR) was made responsible for storage of all the Bt brinjal seeds in India. Independent testing labs are currently being set up.
An irregularity was also brought to the notice of the Karnataka Biodiversity Board by Environment Support Group, a charitable trust in Bengaluru, in February 2010. It found that agencies accessed at least 10 brinjal varieties from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu without seeking prior consent of the National Biodiversity Authority and state biodiversity boards. Mahyco became India’s first commercial entity to be accused of bio-piracy, or misappropriation, of local germplasm.
Many controversies surround the development and release of genetically modified foods, ranging from human safety and environmental impacts to ethical concerns such as corporate control of the food supply and intellectual property rights. The brinjal is an important food crop for India, and the potential commercialization of a genetically modified variety has drawn support and criticism. Although it is a major food crop in India, brinjal production is relatively low with fruit and shoot borer infestation a major constraint to yield. Proponents of the technology believe the Bt brinjal will have positive effects for the Indian economy and the health of the farmers. Field trials conducted on research-managed farms carried out by Mayhco and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research suggested a 42% pesticide reduction and a doubling of the yield was possible. The economic gain for consumers, developers and farmers was estimated to potentially be US$108 million per year with an additional $3–4 million saved due to health benefits associated with decreased pesticide use.
A French scientist renowned for his anti-GM perspective, Gilles-Eric Seralini, raised concerns about some of the differences between feeding trials using the genetically modified and unmodified brinjal, and criticized some of the testing protocols. The EC-II responded to the concerns raised by Seralini and other scientists in their report, New Zealand epidemiologist Lou Gallagher also criticised the feeding trials saying that the raw data indicated toxic effects were associated with the rats fed Bt Brinjal. Concerns have also been raised about a possible conflict of interest, with some of the scientists appointed to the GEAC being involved in developing their own GM products, that the decision by the EC-II was not unanimous, and about the reliability of safety data originating from Mahcyo run trials. The imposed moratorium has been criticized by some scientists as not being based on any compelling scientific evidence and potentially setting Indian biotechnology back decades. Others feel the critical issue is not the safety of the GM technology, but its corporatization and there are claims that India’s crop protection industry was a major player in preventing the commercialization of the Bt brinjal. India's National Biodiversity Authority is probing the crop scientists involved in developing the Bt brinjal for allegedly violating India's 2002 Biological Diversity Act by using local cultivars and foreign technology without their permission. The Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture on 9 August 2012 asked the Government to stop all field trials and sought a ban on GM food crops like Bt brinjal. It also sought a “thorough probe” as to how permission was given to commercialise Bt brinjal seed when all evaluation tests were not carried out. The report of the Committee was tabled a day after Maharashtra Government cancelled Mahyco’s licence to sell its Bt cotton seeds.
Notes and references
- "Bt brinjal developers violated laws". indiatoday.in. 28 February 2010. Retrieved 2011-01-01.
- B Choudhary, K Gaur (2008). "The development and regulation of Bt brinjal in India (Eggplant/Aubergine)". ISAAA Briefs: 42–43.
- Down To Earth: Whose germplasm is it?
- M/s Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company Ltd. (Mahyco), Mumbai University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS),Dharwad and Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) (2009), Report of the Expert Committee (EC-II) on Bt Brinjal Event EE-1
- "India puts on hold first GM food crop on safety grounds". BBC. 9 February 2010. Retrieved 9 February 2010.
- "Govt says no to Bt brinjal for now". The Times of India. 9 February 2010. Retrieved 9 February 2010.
- Kalpana Jain (18 February 2010). "Genetic Engineering Panel to enforce Bt brinjal ban". Business Standard.
- Down To Earth: Bt Brinjal
- Ghosh, S. K., Laskar, N., Senapati, S. K., (2003). "Estimation of loss in yield of brinjal due to pest complex under Terai region of West Bengal". Environ. Ecol. 21: 764–769.
- Vijesh V. Krishnaa,and Matin Qaim (2008). "Potential impacts of Bt eggplant on economic surplus and farmers’health in India". Agricultural Economics: 167–180.
- Kumar, Sant Prasanna, P.A. Lakshmi and Wankhade, Shwetal (19 July 2011) Potential Benefits of Bt Brinjal in India — An Economic Assessment Agricultural Economics Research Review; Vol. 24 January–June 2011 pp 83-90, Retrieved 25 November 2012
- Staff (20 October 2012) Six French academies dismiss study linking GM corn to cancer Agence France-Presse, "Seralini is a well-known opponent of GM crops, and his research was funded in part by an alliance comprising anti-GM campaigners and supermarket chains that have invested heavily in organic food." (The same article was also published in several other places such as France24, Phys.Org and The Australian.) Retrieved 23 October 2012
- Serallini Gilles-Eric (2009). "Effects on health and environment of transgenic (or GM) Bt brinjal.". Biosafety Information Centre.
- "Bt brinjal can damage liver, hit immunity: Study". India Today. 17 January 2011. Retrieved 2011-01-17.
- Sridevi Seetharam (2010). "Should the Bt Brinjal controversy concern healthcare professionals and bioethicists?". Indian J Med Ethics 7 (1).
- Shanthu Shantharam (25 April 2010). "Setback to Bt brinjal will have long-term effect on Indian science and technology". Current Science 98 (8).
- Prabir Purkayastha, Satyajit Rath (15 May 2010). "Bt Brinjal: Need to Refocus the Debate". EPW Economic & Political Weekly 14 (20).
- Andrew Apel (May 2010). "The costly benefits of opposing agricultural biotechnology". New Biotechnology.
- "Glare on brinjal genetic study". Telegraph India. 2 March 2010. Retrieved 2011-01-01.
- "Bar GM food crops, says parliamentary panel". 10 August 2012.